By Taylor W.
It’s a rare occurrence to find food shifting from “poor man’s meat” to “rich man’s dinner” but that is exactly what happened to the Maine lobster. In the 17th century lobsters were washing up on the shore in two foot high mounds easily accessible to anyone that found themselves near a beach. They were considered poor man’s protein because they were so plentiful. However, a major shift happened in the early 19th century when major cities like Boston and New York started serving the crustacean as a high end meal. The lack of knowledge of the lobster’s history and some clever marketing quickly changed lobsters into a rich man’s dinner. There are two theories that directly relate to this lobster phenomena, Symbolic and Cultural evolution. The ways an anthropologist would interpret this situation would differ depending on the theory they used.
An anthropologist would look at this situation and apply symbolic theory, and try to discover what lobsters symbolize. They would do this by asking some questions like who the lobsters were eaten by, where these people ate lobster, and finally what lobsters symbolized during this time. In the 17th century their answers would be that people who ate lobsters were the poor and the accused. Eating lobsters in prisons and on the streets. It was a very common food to find, therefore, it was for the commoner. It was even seen as cruel and unusual punishment to feed a prisoner lobster more than three times a week. This food symbolized the commoner, it symbolized poverty, and no respectable person would ever be seen eating it. But in the early 19th century the symbolic meaning for lobster completely changed. Now if one asked the same questions the answers would be much different. Now people who ate lobsters would be rather well off, eating with friends or on a date in the fanciest of restaurants. The lobster now symbolized the wealthy.
Another way to look at this situation would be to look at how the culture surrounding lobsters changed by using cultural evolution. This theory would determine that people in the 17th century were more primitive for eating dead lobster and considering it a poor man’s food. They would see that they were still humans consuming the food, but they learned and evolved to cook the lobster, and to consider it a meal that was actually worthy of being eaten. They would see that the “primitive peoples” ideas shifted to form a more civilized view of the modern day lobster in a linear way. The cultural change in this situation is severely significant. The whole idea behind lobster evolved and completely changed people’s view of the lobster. The lobster did not change and evolve over time, the way humans view lobster changed.
In nearly 2 centuries the lobster went from most hated crustacean to being one of the tastiest meals one can sit down and eat, becoming a significant part of American north-east culture. Everything about lobsters evolved, especially what they symbolize.
 http://www.history.com/news/a-taste-of-lobster-history Accessed August 15 2014
 http://www.freshmainelobster.com/the-popularity-of-maine-lobsters/ Accessed August 16 2014